While it is not discussed as often as racial discrimination or sex-based discrimination, national origin discrimination is very real in American workplaces. It involves treating job applicants and/or current employees unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it also involves treating employees or applicants unfavorably because of their ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background. It also involves treating people unfavorably because they are married to or associate with members of a certain ethnicity or ethnic group. One type of this unfavorable treatment is harassment, which can ultimately lead to a “hostile work environment.”
What Law Protects Workers from National Origin Discrimination?
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes certain types of harassment illegal because they are forms of discrimination. However, not all types of harassment are covered by the Act. First of all, in order for harassment to be illegal, it must be based on a person’s membership in a protected class. National origin is a protected class. So if a person is harassed because of his or her accent, or what part of the world he or she (or his or her parents or grandparents) is from, the harassment is unlawful.
There are only two specific types of national origin harassment that are illegal:
- Harassment becomes unlawful if enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment; and
- Harassment becomes unlawful if the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
That second type of harassment is what we mean by “hostile work environment” harassment. This harassment is severe, recurring, and pervasive, and that makes it illegal. So while one joke about an employee’s accent may not be enough to make a harassment claim, a pervasive repeated pattern of such comments may very well be harassment. Knowing if that line has been crossed may be difficult for an employee, so if you are in doubt as to whether or not your coworkers or boss has crossed the line, you may wish to speak with an attorney so you can learn your rights in detail.
It is worth noting that it need not be the supervisor who is engaging in this harassment for the harassment to be illegal. Harassment from co-workers or sometimes even non-employees on the work site can be unlawful under certain circumstances, especially if the employer knows about the harassment and refuses to take action to prevent it.
Contact an Attorney at HKM
National origin discrimination is a blight on our society, and we here at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP are passionate about fighting back against it. If you or your loved one has been a victim of this sort of discrimination, or if you are currently working in a hostile work environment, please call (503) 398-1130. It is very important to file these sorts of complaints quickly, and we would like to discuss your case with you to see if there is anything we can do to help.